The Medievalism of Nostalgia
An ARC NEER Symposium at the School of Graduate Research, University of Melbourne, 27-28 November 2009
Nostalgia, first perceived in the 17th century as an obscure condition of homesickness afflicting soldiers serving abroad, is now recognized as a key symptom of modernity. Medievalism - the re-imagining and re-invention of the Middle Ages - has provided a desirable home for the longings of nostalgia since the 18th century or earlier. This symposium offers an opportunity to investigate the privileged association between the two terms.
Professor Linda M. Austin (Oklahoma State University)
Linda M. Austin is Professor of English at Oklahoma State University, where she covers the Victorian era and teaches theory, as well as literature and photography. She writes on the literature, culture and arts of the long nineteenth century, particularly on childhood, performances of the sublime and the intersection between literature, psycho-physiology and economics. Her books are The Practical Ruskin (Johns Hopkins, 1991) and Nostalgia in Transition (University of Virginia Press, 2007) and she has written articles on several Victorian poets, including James Thomson, Alice Meynell, and Thomas Hardy. Currently she is working on a study of automata and automatisms in the theoretical documents, literature and fine arts of the period and her essay "John Stuart Mill and the Paradox of Happiness" will appear shortly in a collection of essays on happiness in the online journal World Picture.
Dr. Louise D'Arcens (University of Wollongong)
Louise D'Arcens is a Senior Lecturer in the English Literatures Program at the University of Wollongong. She is the author of many articles and chapters on medievalism and of the forthcoming book Old Songs in the Timeless Land: Medievalism in Nineteenth-Century Australian Literatures (UWA Press). She recently edited Screening Early Europe, a special issue of the journal Screening the Past dedicated to screen medievalism. Louise is currently working, along with Professor Stephanie Trigg (Melbourne) and Professor Andrew Lynch (UWA), on the Australian Research Council-funded project "Medievalism in Australian Cultural Memory". She is leader of the Cultural Memories research theme of the ARC-funded Network for Early European Research and is co-ordinator of the Network's Australasian Medievalisms research cluster. She also writes on medieval women's writing and is co-editor of the volumes Maistresse of My Wit: Medieval Women: Modern Scholars (Brepols, 2004, with Juanita Ruys) and Unsocial Sociability in Women's Life Writing (Palgrave, forthcoming 2010).
Professor Andrew Lynch (University of Western Australia)
Andrew Lynch teaches in English and Cultural Studies and is Director of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at The University of Western Australia. His publications include Malory’s Book of Arms (D. S. Brewer), two edited collections and numerous articles and book chapters on medieval literature and its modern afterlives in Britain and Australia. He is working on a book about medieval war in modern imagination and with Stephanie Trigg, Louise D'Arcens and John M. Ganim is investigating "Medievalism in Australian Cultural Memory" as an Australian Research Council Discovery Project. He is co-editor of the refereed journal Parergon for the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies. His chapter on 'Imperial Arthur' is forthcoming in The Cambridge Companion to the Arthurian Legend.
A postgraduate/early career researcher masterclass will be held immediately after the symposium, on Sunday 29 November. This day-long event will focus specifically on the theorising of nostalgia and will be geared toward assisting postgraduates and early career researchers in developing a rigorous and confident engagement with nostalgia and associated concepts. While the masterclass will have a medievalist emphasis, it will not be limited to medievalism, so postgraduates and early career researchers in a range of areas are welcome to apply. This event will be convened by Louise D’Arcens and Andrew Lynch as part of their current Australian Research Council-funded project on Medievalism in Australian Cultural Memory. The masterclass will also involve input from other academic guests working in the areas of nostalgia and cultural memory. Further details will be available when they are confirmed. Interested postgraduates and early career researchers should contact either Andrew Lynch (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Louise D'Arcens (email@example.com).
Oklahoma State University
The Nostalgic Moment
Any exploration, manifestation, or expression of nostalgia embeds and depends on features of memory that transcend nostalgia’s periodic and sundry eruptions. This essential experience of nostalgia is balanced by its historical emergence into non-medical discourse, in the early nineteenth century. This paper coordinates the two moments. I begin by constructing a phenomenology of the transient nostalgic experience that situates it in relation to cognitive memory. Nostalgia is a mode of affective and primary memory involving specific eidetic features and largely dependent on motor-sensory organization. Experiences recorded by Thomas Carlyle and Ann Radcliffe not only illustrate some of these features, but display the nostalgic moment in tension with the prescribed significance of historical objects and events. Two of the earliest manifestations of aesthetic nostalgia on the threshold of depathologization, the picturesque and the gothic revival, further illustrate this tension. Once in contention as a third category alongside the sublime and the beautiful, the picturesque, as theorized by Richard Payne Knight, became an aesthetic moment that enfolds the peculiarly physiological memorative function of nostalgia, recognition, as opposed to a conscious and articulated recollection. Similarly, the discourse surrounding the gothic revival depended on the impact of the nostalgic moment even while loading it with a lofty national symbolism. The revival turned one of the chief sources of the picturesque (and one with a seemingly unrelated psychic impact) into a mnemonic experience, and the conversations of revivalists and anti-revivalists centered on just what should be remembered. A comparison of A.W.N. Pugin’s Contrasts (1836) and Charles L. Eastlake’s A History of the Gothic Revival (1872) reveals that the theorizers and practitioners of the revival moved, inadvertently at times, from a contested ideological approach to the past to an affective appreciation of a concocted Middle Ages based on the work of primary memory - in the form of familiarization.
University of Sydney
Nostalgia and the Vínland Voyages
Until the last decade of the twentieth century, nostalgia might be said to be the keynote in American literature of Norse voyages to the paradisial place which Leifr Eiríksson called Vínland, as related in the Old Norse Grænlendinga saga ( “The Saga of the Greenlanders’) and Eiríks saga rauða( “The Saga of Eric the Red’). Introduced to the English-speaking world in 1837 by the Danish scholar C.C. Rafn, the Vínland story was, in fact, a record of failure — its fledgling settlement destroyed when Eric’s daughter, Freydis, goes on a murder rampage in Grænlendinga saga and the quest to locate the land briefly visited by Leifr in Eiríks saga rauða ultimately unsuccessful. In both sagas, Norsemen kill indigenous people without provocation, fall out amongst themselves and eventually abandon the enterprise. The Vínland voyages are not, on the face of it, a wholly promising subject for nostalgia. Nevertheless, they could, with a little revision, elision, and poetic licence - essentially a limitation of the story to the moment of “discovery’ - be shaped into a myth of national foundation. In lyric and epic, American poets celebrated individual acts of enterprise and heroism which took the Norsemen in trailblazing voyages across the Atlantic to an Edenic land from which there would be no expulsion, although American novelists ignored the subject. This paper examines nostalgic recreations of the Vínland voyages in nineteenth-century America; the somewhat different approach to the story in Britain; and the overtly anti-nostalgic stance which it provokes from contemporary writers in English.
University of Wollongong
Impossibility and Desire
A noteworthy ambivalence is inherent in the term “nostalgia’. This is evident not only in the tension between ideas of pleasant remembrance and notions of irrationality and delusion, but also in nostalgic longing’s entanglement with a sense of loss. As the objects of nostalgic desire are temporally bound to the past, the possibility of fulfilment resides outside material realisation. This paper will consider the construction of Guy Gavriel Kay’s medieval “secondary world’ in The Fionavar Tapestry with reference to Lacanian ideas concerning reality and desire. It will discuss the implicit substance, value and authority granted to this alternate medieval “reality’ and the text’s enactment of nostalgia, longing and loss. The notion that fantasy and impossibility are integral to the sustenance of desire is of particular interest to this discussion. So too are questions regarding genre fantasy’s negotiation of the tensions associated with nostalgic desire.
University of Wollongong
Laughing in the Face of the Past: Satire and Nostalgia in Medieval Heritage Tourism
Satire and nostalgia would seem to imply opposing attitudes to the medieval past: one laughs at it, the other longs for it. And yet they operate within a shared cross-temporal frame, in which past and present are made to pass comment on one another. So is medievalist satire just a form of crypto-nostalgia? Does it increase or contain our sense of nostalgic distance from the Middle Ages? How does nostalgia function as a tool of satire? Can we laugh at the Middle Ages and long for them at the same time? These and other questions will be explored in relation to a range of satirical medievalist forms, including film, theatre, television and cartoons, with a particular emphasis on the strategies used within heritage tourism in its attempt to make us laugh at the Middle Ages … or perhaps at ourselves.
University of Sheffield
Remembering the Voyage
Voyaging, especially when linked to discovery and nation building, engenders a complex mix of emotions in the collective psyche. When historians attempt to reconstruct those sea trips popularly known as voyages of discovery, they confront written and pictorial records, often contemporaneous with the voyage, that place those involved in a heroic light – seemingly unencumbered by the commercial or political imperatives of the day.
In my paper I will be considering two distinct scenarios: voyages of traders from Bristol across the Atlantic in the fifteenth century and voyages of beche de mer fishermen in the waters off North Queensland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although these are very different, the way both are remembered in popular culture harks back to the idea of a medieval past when men took to the sea in small boats – spurred on by a sense of adventure, loyalty to their monarch and a belief that God was on their side.
It is my contention that the ideal English medieval voyage was a familiar construct by the sixteenth century. This construction, effectively “set in stone’ by the Reformation, is so imbedded in our culture that writing the Australian voyage is always going to be problematic. At the time when Europeans began making their living from the seas off North Australia, Victorian nostalgia for an imagined medieval past was overlaid with a belief in protestant superiority and success. This meant that, like the traders and cod fishermen of fifteenth century Bristol, beche de mer fishermen and their ilk promoted themselves and were remembered as “venturers’, rather than opportunistic traders supported by and supplying commercial conglomerates.
University of Melbourne
“Yearning for the sweet beckoning sound’: Music and Longing in Medievalist Fantasy Fiction
High fantasy fiction often presents us with a world which is medieval in one sense or another. Medieval allusions may be only fleeting or indeterminate or they may be explicit and saturate the story at every level, but there is a perception among writers and readers that fantasy and the “medieval’ have a privileged link, or are even interchangeable. Readers believe, it seems, that to enter the medieval is to step off the mundane world into a fantasy, and fantasy writers present them again and again with this opportunity.
Certain medieval otherworlds presented in fantasy fiction, or select regions of them, function as sites of prelapsarian plenitude and presence for which the heart longs. These lands of heart’s desire are perhaps never seen, only dreamed of or glimpsed from afar. Sometimes they are loved and lost, or nobly renounced for a cause, sometimes threatened, stolen or destroyed. Rarely do the heroes and heroines of fantasy fiction live out their days peacefully in such realms. What authors usually dwell on instead is the loss of the blissful realm, or its unattainability, and the accompanying grief and yearning.
Music is frequently invoked in relation to these realms. Sometimes it is there as a faint, tantalizing intimation of their presence, just out of reach, intermittent, impossible to locate precisely. Sometimes it is the key by which characters are transported to the longed-for realm. Sometimes it defines the place itself, as when Sam, at his first sight of Lothlórien says: “I feel as if I was inside a song’ (Lord of the Rings).
The question to which this paper is a partial response is: why is music so often invoked in the nostalgia which haunts medievalism? What brings these three terms together as they are brought together in fantasy fiction? My paper addresses these questions in the light of a Lacanian understanding of desire and its paradoxical object: objet (petit) a.
Biruta Livija Flood
The Medieval Landscape of Livonia as a Locus for Nostalgia and Nationalism: The 18th and 20th Centuries
This study of National Romantic architecture in Riga, Latvia, explores links between the aesthetics of nostalgia in 18th-century Romanticism and strategies for reinventing “national’ self-identity in Latvian architecture after the turn of the 19th century.
A corpus of unpublished drawings from Tartu University and the Academy of Latvia Rare Books collection, together with archeological and photographic data, forms the basis of this analysis.
It will be argued that nostalgia for the Medieval landscape of Livonia re-emerges (after its virtual disappearance in the second half of the 19th century) with a dramatically altered sensibility in the work of the new generation of Latvian architects at the dawn of the 20th century. In place of melancholia, objectification of the Medieval landscape, in favour of symbolism, forms the basis of their architectural practice.
While the collapsed and reshaped hybridity of their forms resolutely adapt to a brave new Darwinian world, their dark and somber presence in the urban landscape may yet hide a nostalgia for an irretrievable human loss. The links in aesthetic expression of nostalgia at both ends of the time spectrum will be explored using Algirdas Greimas’ semiotic theories of nostalgia in conjunction with contemporaneous theories of vision and perception.
University of Wales Lampeter
Neither Brave in War nor Faithful in Times of Peace: British Attitudes to Rome (and Britain) in the Post-Roman Era
Following the classic work of Jones (1996) in The End of Roman Britain, this paper seeks to examine three of the key historical texts of the early to mid medieval period – Gildas' De Excidio, the Historia Brittonum attributed to Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain and take them as historiographical, rather than strictly historical, texts. Although nostalgia is located as a typically modern phenomena, the longing for the past, and the idealised notions of history that form in the wake of such longing, is a phenomenon that has its roots even in Plato’s writing of the fabled Atlantis or the crucial significance of Eden in Judaeo-Christian discourse. This paper takes the relationship between Britain and Rome, coloured by provincial status and Imperial ambitions, and examines the writing and rewriting of this relationship across the three medieval texts highlighted above to consider the ways in which nostalgia for Roman centrality and British engagement with a wider world shaped British identity and nascent nationalism in the early medieval period.
University of Western Australia
“Footsteps of lost liberty’*: Nostalgia, Men in Love and the Petrarchan Sonnet Sequence
From representations of desire as a foreign country, to metaphors of migration and longing for lost identity and freedom, metaphors utilizing the state of mind which we would today call “nostalgic” are crucial to late Medieval and Early Modern representations of love. This essay will look at seven late Medieval and Renaissance sonnet sequences ranging from 1250s to 1600s (Dante, Petrarch, Sidney, Spenser, Drayton, Daniel and Shakespeare) as well as Plato’s discussions of loss of freedom and Ovid’s narrative of nostalgia, to trace the creative development of using the idea of nostalgia to represent love in its many facets.
*Sir Philip Sidney, Astrophil and Stella, 2:9.
University of Auckland
Quest for Galahad – Arthur’s Only Perfect Knight: Revivifying Galahad by Revealing His Celtic Relations
“Babylon, Troy, Tyre, Palestine, and even early Rome are passing already into fiction. The Garden of Eden, the sun standing still in Gibeon, is poetry thenceforward to all nations. Who cares what the fact was, when we have made a constellation of it to hang in heaven an immortal sign?”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
We have made constellations of heroes to hang in the heavens for generations to gaze up to. Heroes like Cúchulainn of Celtic mythology shine ever so brightly like the Polaris, and the heroic knights of Arthurian literature, like the famous King Arthur or his romantic rival Lancelot, still flare in contest. Over a thousand years after these heroes appeared in legends, writers are still reworking and (re)appropriating them for new generations of readers both fueled by and fueling the stars of nostalgia. This is not, however, true to all heroes and some have lost much of its luminosity over the centuries. Sir Galahad, the perfect knight and paragon of Christianity, is one example; hidden in the overwhelming glare of the other Arthurian Knights, and the supposed star of La Queste del saint Graal, he has not aged so well. Galahad’s “perfection’ making him dull and dim, his oblivion is unsurprising – or so it seems at first glance. Galahad is, in fact, a far more interesting character than he appears at first blush, deserving of attention equal to that which writers and academic critics have lavished upon his more popular contemporaries. In reading Galahad primarily as a Christian hero, we have deprived him of a crucial part of his heritage, a part that makes him interesting, and provides him with depth of character. He contains, within his Christian regalia, the heart of Celtic mythological heroes!
In order to make the case for Galahad’s complexity, and worth, it will be necessary to consider the characteristics of Celtic heroes and why they continue to fascinate many of us. By exploring the rejuvenated hero Cúchulainn, I will attempt to identify Galahad’s “shortcomings’ and cast him in a new light by pointing out the similarities he shares with this exemplary Celtic hero as well as revealing other Celtic aspects.
University of Western Australia
Nostalgia and Critique: The Case of Walter Scott
Perhaps because of its origins in pathology, nostalgia is often understood as an ineluctable and unitary condition of longing which precludes critique of its desired object in the past. Likewise, nostalgia is usually understood principally to express dissatisfaction with a defective present. Nevertheless, because it requires imagination of an absent ideal, and makes strong, implicit demands of the material with which it seeks to satisfy longing, nostalgia can also generate critical dissatisfaction with the deficiencies of its past object. It might be argued, for instance, that much nineteenth-century adaptation of the medieval past was coercive and critical, troubled by the failure of its originals to fulfill nostalgic expectations, and designed to supply a better middle ages than history was perceived to offer, in effect privileging the standpoint of the present.
The relation between nostalgia and critique is also made more complex by the varieties of historical access available to the modern nostalgic subject, who may have, for example, both a scholarly and an aesthetic investment in the past, and whose emotional response may be disarticulated by simultaneous allegiance tomagendas – nationalist, religious, cultural – in which the value of the past is configured very differently.
Thirdly, most versions of historical nostalgia imply a definite separation of past from present in an hierarchical opposition, without allowing for other possible accompanying effects – anachronism, timelessness, assertions of continuity – which militate against the strict division of time and challenge the dominance of either nostalgia or progressivism. Rather than a totalising syndrome, nostalgia may be only one symptom amongst others of a past/present cultural relation.
In the context of “The Medievalism of Nostalgia’, my paper is an attempt to think through these and other complications of the subject, through an analysis of medievalist fictions by Walter Scott (1771-1832), including Marmion, Ivanhoe, The Abbot, The Monastery, The Betrothed and The Talisman.
University of Waikato
Early 18th-Century British Attitudes to the Medieval Past: What the Traveller Saw
In her recent study, Nostalgia and the Future (2001), Svetlana Boym observes that progress often “exacerbates” nostalgia and so “nostalgic manifestations” tend to reappear in times of “accelerated rhythm of life and historical upheavals” (xiv). This paper considers manifestations of nostalgia – and anti-nostalgia – following the Union of Scotland with England in 1707, found in early eighteenth-century travellers’ accounts of visits to what have come to be called “heritage” sites. The paper will focus particularly on representative Scottish and English responses to such sites, including battlefields like Bannockburn (1314), associated with Scotland’s Wars of Independence. The ways the medieval past is re-imagined and, in some places, medieval historical accounts adapted, in early tourists’ conceptions of “progress” – understood at the time in the sense of (economic and political) advancement on the one hand, and as a journey or expedition on the other – provide interesting insights that illustrate aspects of the conference theme in relation to tourism and heritage.
University of Auckland
Regarding the Past: Vincent Ward’s Historical Fictions, Medievalism and the Question of Nostalgia
This paper offers a reading of two films by Vincent Ward, The Navigator, a Medieval Odyssey - explicitly a work of medievalism - and The River Queen, which treats of the Maori Wars. Both deal with problematic pasts from a point of view established by an even more troubled present, for questionable purposes. Ward himself has declared a primary interest in telling stories that compel the attention of a general audience. To that extent, The Navigator seems to tap into cultural enthusiasm, medievalism working at two levels, glamorous action and nostalgic paradigm, where the past is entangled with the present. Ward’s obsessive concern with detailed recreation of historical moments, however, indicates a profound interest in symbolic patterning of the past through narrative, supporting a serious, if loaded, reading of the histories he chooses to address. Both films have been justified at length by Ward in fascinating notes that register a spiritual force in past cultures that is blocked in modern society. Alternatively, the adventure that runs through both films suggests the possibility that these fictions may be presented not just as works of nostalgic re-memoration, but as sites of memory, lieux de mémoire, in Pierre Nora’s phrase, managing a significant relation with the past. The question this paper addresses, then, is whether these works can escape the common suspicion of narratives that deal with a remote past - especially in the case of the middle ages, which have been so persistently viewed that the gaze itself has settle into an attitude, medievalism. Do these works respect this history, or are they “historicist’, in the postmodern fashion that Frederic Jameson stigmatises as nostalgia. If we regard them as works of nostalgia, does that necessarily make their effort to establish a viable sense of the past inauthentic? Susan Stewart argues, persuasively, that the nostalgic text - inevitably manipulative, inevitably ideological - allows to the past only the authenticity that derives from the “pattern and insight” of the narrative that looks to reconstruct it. In the “transcendence” offered by the nostalgic text she finds only the symptoms of a “social disease.” Should she find in texts of medievalism like Ward’s that nostalgia is redeemed, rather, as support for performance in “theatres of memory”? Ward’s The Navigator is powerful fiction. In its relation to his other historical films, it clearly challenges us to think about the viability of narrative in medievalism. Furthermore, if medievalism is a kind of “homesickness”, what happens when the arc of this desire is not just modern, but also antipodean?
University of Western Australia
A Real Woman of Imagination: Medievalism and Nostalgia in the Recreation of Marie de France
My paper explores the links between medievalism and nostalgia in critical and in creative engagement with twelfth-century poet Marie de France. To encounter academic criticism, translations and editions of the Lais of Marie de France is to encounter the desire to locate a particular woman as their author, an attempt that can be considered a medievalist recreation. My own attempts to study and to teach the Lais of Marie de France have been marked by a repressed, doubtful and suspect nostalgia for the “womanly” figure of Marie, a figure who might embody the possibility of identification with the medieval past.
I will discuss the way in which my own furtive medievalism has been forced into contact with the full-figured and unashamed nostalgia of contemporary medievalist fantasy fiction. In Sophie Masson’s 1998 medievalist fantasy novel The Knight By the Pool, the desire to represent Marie, the medieval woman poet, is mingled with other, more generically driven expectations. Marie is figured in Masson’s novel as a romantic heroine, and is focus for the text’s representation of aristocratic privilege, for a magical and an emotional connection to landscape, and the experience of a fantastic Otherworld.
In this paper, I will examine some of the feminist implications of medievalist nostalgia in both genre fiction and in medieval scholarship, suggesting that these different attempts at recovery can in fact intensify a sense of “lack’ within the medieval past.
Charles Sturt University
The Disappearing Village
The village is enjoying a wave of popularity in the Western imagination. The word is applied to everything from shopping precincts in major cities to old people’s homes. The ideal tourist destination is a village in the south of France, or by a tropical lagoon. Literature and television depict the village as a place where you can escape the pressures of modern life, and find yourself.
Today, most people live in cities. The vogue for the village comes about at a time when people know least about it. In the Middle Ages, when the village was the predominant form of habitation, people felt no particular regard for it, if the literature and art of the time can be taken as representative.
This paper proposes a turning point in Western societies, when disconnection from the physical reality of the village permits its reconstruction by city-based writers and intellectuals as an ideal. In England the physical disconnection took place at some stage of the industrial revolution, and the conceptual rebuilding is exemplified by Oliver Goldsmith and William Blake. Subsequently, the romanticised notion of the village fed back into its physical reconstruction as a modernist sham.
Contemporary discourse eulogises the village as a place of positive community values. Local government and developers seek to recreate the virtues of the village in urban settings by constructing physical elements loosely associated with village life, such as pedestrianised shopping malls and outdoor cafes. Reconsideration of the physical features and history of the traditional village enables us to ask whether the village is all it is cracked up to be, or whether the medieval view was right.
University of Auckland
In Search of Past Things: T. H. White’s Wartime Fantasy
One of the most enjoyable features of T. H. White’s The Once and Future King is the author’s detailed attention to things and the ways people use them. Whether describing the getting in of hay, the construction of a castle, the contents of an armoury or the makings of a royal feast, White glories in the minutiae that his source, Malory, seldom gives us. But the tetralogy also draws attention to itself as an exercise in nostalgia. Thus we learn that “in Old England . . . [t]he weather behaved itself[,]’ and that on Christmas night “the snow lay as it ought to lie[,]’ hanging “heavily on the battlements, like thick icing on a very good cake’ (137).
White’s tetralogy was written between 1938 and 1942. Most critics who canvass the work’s wartime aspects focus on White’s desire to posit a world without war, as rendered in the final book and the additional volume Collins refused to publish. But White’s framing of his loving attention to past things within a fantasy the constructedness of which he emphasises may also be seen as a wartime symptom. In signalling that the imagined robustness of past things - or lost objects - is born of their historical fragility, White refers obliquely to the spectre of absolute loss that underwrites the nostalgic longings of the reader. I will contextualise White with other wartime renditions of “old England’ which, by framing images with overt nostalgia, signal the trauma of enemy bombing, which destroys not only things but frameworks for national imagining. The paper will then ask to what extent The Morte Darthur, when placed in its wartime context, also uses historical reference to imagine annihilation.
University of Queensland
Nostalgia and the Gendered Body in MMORPGs
If nostalgia is a feeling of longing for the past and computer games are “for boys”, one might very well wonder what medievalist online video games have to offer women. Yet, women are roughly a third of the MMORPG (massively multi-player online role-playing game) market; and women avatars constitute roughly a third of avatars in the world's number one MMORPG, World of Warcraft. Lauren Mayer argues that MMORPGs are now “the most influential space for the articulation of the relationships between gender and “the medieval’” in our culture because of their enormous reach: World of Warcraft, for example, has a subscription base of 12 million people; roughly the size of Greece.
Nostalgia for the medieval is seen in many aspects of game-play: quests, tournaments, guild affiliation, even “role-playing” servers where players are encouraged to speak in faux medieval language and not reveal their 21st-century selves. But this is a radically changed medieval landscape, and for me the most critically interesting way it is changed is that women are figures of the public world of war and politics; and commonly so, not exceptionally so as Jane Tolmie laments in her assessment of contemporary fantasy. The female body in the game, though, is still subject to western cultural stereotypes, some that may even invoke nostalgia for a different age entirely.
This paper, then, will examine the figure of the armoured woman in World of Warcraft, arguing that her body is not only gendered but also genred: that is, she is a figure whose dimensions have been agreed upon tacitly by creators, audiences and institutions in a variety of media across time. As computer game audiences change and become more feminised, how will our re-visions of the medieval female body change?
University of Western Sydney
“You never laughed in all your life as I shall laugh in death’: The Medievalism of G. K. Chesterton
Images of the Middle Ages pervade the poetry and prose of G. K. Chesterton; some of his most famous poems, such as “The Ballad of the White Horse’, see nationalism and purportedly medieval material deeply entwined. A key aspect of Chesterton’s thought and work was his celebration of a life “lived large’ – feeling and experience championed. He cast himself as an anti-modernist, perceiving in modernism a deathly uniformity; the dislike was mutual: T.S. Eliot wrote “I have seen the forces of death with Mr Chesterton at their head upon a white horse’. Chesterton’s medievalism was an integral part of his anti-modernism project and was cast principally as a form of nostalgia, of longing for an age of heroic endeavour. Poems like “The Last Hero’, from which I draw my title, illustrate an apparently straightforward longing for the medieval past; however, his novel The Napoleon of Notting Hill demonstrates a much more complex relationship where that same past is consciously imagined rather than factual. The overtly fictitious is, however, no less inspirational for its invented state: within the novel it inspires the characters, and the book itself is rumoured to have stirred Michael Collins in his fight for a free Ireland. Drawing on his deliberate use of an overtly rather than covertly constructed “past’ in The Napoleon of Notting Hill, I argue that Chesterton deliberately imbued his medievalism with notalgia in self-conscious manipulations of images of English history in protest against what he saw as the evils of modernism.